A Little Love for the Lemon Shark

By: Randy Morrow

The winter months in the Keys can bring a change in the fishing, especially when the water temps drop to the low 70s or below. One of the most fun but overlooked sight casting targets on the flats is negaprion brevirostris, a/k/a the lemon shark.

Lemons check a lot of boxes for the flats angler:

  • They are a moving target, but more predictable in their path than many flats species.
  • They require an accurate presentation and retrieve for success.
  • Generally, there are good numbers of them on the flats, giving lots of opportunities for casting, retrieving, setting the hook, fighting and landing a large fish. In other words, you get plenty of chances to improve your skills.
  • There are plenty of lemons in the 3’ to 4’ range on Keys flats, which is the perfect size for kayak fishing – big enough to be fun, but not so big as to be frightening.
  • With proper tackle, the fish can be de-hooked and safely released.

My standard spinning rig for these medium-sized lemons is:

  • 7’ rod rated 12-20lb
  • 4500 series reel
  • 20lb braided line (minimum 200yds)
  • Add 4’ of 100lb braid
  • Swivel rated for 70lb +
  • 4” of #7 wire
  • 4/0 Owner SSW all-purpose bait hook

The 100lb braid section is to protect the line from rubbing against the rough skin of the shark, and of course the wire protects against the razor-sharp teeth. The Owner SSW hook, while not a true circle hook, has a hook point that curves back slightly towards the shank, and is slightly offset. These 2 features result in hookups in the corner of the shark’s mouth, making hook removal much easier. The other piece of gear I recommend are LONG handled pliers!
For fly fishing, a 10wt rod will get the job done. Flies are simple – a stout 3/0 hook dressed with orange rabbit fur will get their attention. Leaders are also simple – 8’ of 40lb fluorocarbon is fine. And of course, you’ll want a small swivel and about 4” of #7 wire as a bite tippet. One other addition will greatly improve your hookup ratio, though it might get me in trouble with the fly fishing purists. A small piece of fish skin (I like snapper – about 1” x 1/2”) will add scent to your fly without making it clumsy to cast. I’ve found that the fly alone will get their attention and earn you a “follow”, but rarely will the shark commit to it. Add the fish skin and you’ll be nailing 80% of the sharks you cast at.
Lemon sharks many times tend to be deliberate – even cautious – about eating offerings from anglers. Make your presentation about 24” in front of the shark in his line of travel and start a slow to medium retrieve. Often the shark will follow it for several feet before committing, so be patient and wait for the pull before setting the hook. And then HANG ON for a flats sleigh ride!

— Randy Morrow, Kayak Fishing Guide | LowerKeysKayakFishing.com
randy@lowerkeyskayakfishing.com | 305-923-4643